Number of chronically homeless more than doubles in Halifax

·4 min read

The number of people who are chronically homeless in Halifax has more than doubled in the last year and advocates say COVID-19 is only part of the growing problem.

According to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, there are 477 people who are homeless in the city right now. Of those people, 375 are considered chronically homeless, meaning they've been without suitable housing for six months or longer.

By comparison, in October 2019, there were 230 people in Halifax who were homeless, including 140 people who were facing chronic homelessness, said Jim Graham, the association's executive director.

"We're just kind of treading water," Graham told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Tuesday. "Those numbers will change dramatically if Halifax experiences a second wave. I think we'll see those numbers go up."

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday a second wave of the pandemic has arrived in Nova Scotia, with seven cases of COVID-19 that officials have been unable to trace to a travel-related source.

CBC News
CBC News

When the pandemic arrived in Nova Scotia this spring, Graham said many people living on a family member's couch, or in other informal situations, had to find somewhere else to go.

"I think some of the stress is related to COVID-19 job loss, things like that. Those relationships broke down," he said.

COVID-19 also dramatically decreased the number of shelter beds available due to physical distancing rules.

But the city's growing problem with homelessness runs deeper than the last eight months, Graham said. Advocates blame a lack of affordable housing and a rental market with a very low vacancy rate and soaring prices.

CBC
CBC

Calls for rent control and more permanent housing options for the homeless are growing louder, but with the cold setting in, Michelle Malette said help is needed now.

"Rents have absolutely skyrocketed in our city," said Malette, executive director of Out of the Cold Community Association.

"Really, anyone with a low or moderate income actually is in a pretty precarious place in being able to afford their rent right now in Halifax."

Out of the Cold typically runs from November or December until the spring, but this year will stay open 24/7, said Malette.

The shelter is training new staff next week but is still deciding on a location where it hopes to have 20 to 25 beds.

CBC
CBC

The latest numbers on homelessness in Halifax are sobering, but not surprising to Cynthia Louis with Parker Street Food Bank.

Her organization is trying to help people on the brink of becoming homeless. It recently launched a campaign to raise $100,000 to help low-income families pay for essentials like power, heating and prescribed medication.

Louis said COVID-19 has made an already unstable housing situation far worse for many people.

"They can't pay their power bill because they need to pay rent. They can't pay their rent because they need medication," she said.

"It's a heartbreaking situation and I wish that more could be done to help those that are being faced with eviction notices and so on."

CBC News
CBC News

Parker Street Food Bank collects food and furniture and also distributes supplies through its annual back-to-school and Christmas hamper programs.

"As soon as it comes in, it goes out the door. So we are definitely always in need of food items and toiletries also," Louis said.

Of the 477 people who are currently homeless in Halifax, about 270 of them are single, according to data from the Affordable Housing Association.

"We know that single males are a disproportionate percentage of the total," Graham said. "We also know that Indigenous peoples and people of African descent are also disproportionately represented in the numbers."

As homelessness becomes more dire in Halifax, it will become harder to find ways to house everyone, he said.

"It's hard to imagine how we can make an impact on a permanent solution for that many," he said.

"But certainly an investment in something that was more temporary and bought some time to have a more permanent impact might be appropriate."

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